New! Spoken-Word Audio - VS
New! Spoken-Word Audio - VS
Meren Dulance, Lord of High Vale, paced in the darkened high chamber. The room flickered by the light of one small lamp, and the great and large man cast vast shadows in the high-ceilinged room, passing back and forth before the amber flame of the lamp, his mighty arms clenched across his chest. He paused and listened in his pacing, for was that not a distant cry? No, not yet. It was not time. He had just left Varrashallaine sleeping, and felt this was the last time with her, as he was finally ready to surrender to the inevitable. When the dragon warriors burst through the front doors, he would humbly offer them his head, his life, for this was the thirty-second visit to this, his halted world, and after, after this final time of agony, he would delete this crystal sandbox, and he would no longer think of Varra. He sighed. This was the end.
|Illustration by Harrison Christian Larsen ©2016 - Vestigial Surreality: SEVEN|
“There is a way,” a voice spoke from the echoing room.
Meren Dulance gasped, whirling, perceiving a dark and looming shape half-hidden in the shadows of the dark room.
“Toby, I know how much this world means to you. High Vale is beautiful, and you have been a true artist, a genius in its construct,” the voice murmured.
“How did you get in here?” Six snapped, his heart hammering in his great and broad chest.
“How tall are you in RL?” the shadow queried, hardly moving, it looked like the grim reaper refusing to emerge from the grave.
“What? Oh, I’m, I don’t know, five-foot seven?”
“Let’s say five-foot six, we’ll be generous,” the voice echoed. “But here, oh, look at you, Toby. What? You prefer the number, Six? Fine, Number Six, here, you are massive, a man of power, six-foot-four in your stockinged feet. Powerful, truly, a man of power in every way. And yet, sadly, you cannot stand up to the overwhelming force that even now approaches. Do not worry. Look at the lamp.”
Six turned and looked at the lamp. The flame did not flicker. The world of High Vale was frozen. Whoever this was invading his crystal sandbox, the person was an admin, with its controlling powers. Whoever this was, they had control.
“What do you want?” Six gasped, more frightened now than ever he had been by dragon warriors. For this was a threat from RL. They could take away everything. They knew. Instead of his doctorate, his supposed studies, dissertation, all of that rot, he was living here, at fraction time, at creep, passing ten years in lordly bliss, while mere weeks passed in RL. They would take everything.
“Do not be afraid,” the voice murmured, and a tall and very thin old man moved forward, more into the light. “Try and relax. I am not here to punish you. I am here to help you.”
“How can you help me?” Six gasped, nearly bursting into tears. It was all over. Relax. Don’t be afraid. Absurdity, ludicrity, asininity. How stupid this all was, how pointless.
“Ah, my young friend, it is not stupid. It is not pointless.”
Six ogled the old man. He noticed the sparks of silver flaring reflections from the frozen flame, tiny sparkles of rainbows light off the stubble on the old man’s chin. This admin was somehow reading his mind. He remembered something Seven told him, about the old man on the bench, the one with the pigeons. Hadn’t he told her that, do not be afraid?
“I am not reading your mind; well, not exactly,” the old man soothed reassuringly, moving forward a step. He suddenly reached out an arm and clasped the beefy Lord of High Vale by the hand, and squeezed.
Six sighed. His fear was gone. Memories of severe trembling passed from his mind.
“Tell me what to do, I’ll do anything,” Toby Winnur, Number Six, said.
“It will take some daring, on your part,” the old man said, smiling sweetly, “daring, on your part, and mine. But more, we will more have to be lucky. Very lucky. Does God throw dice? And, I think, we shall have to break…a few rules. Perhaps just a few rules.”
Seven instinctively stepped back, as did the businessman. Newbury noticed that the small man had stepped away from her even as he retreated a few steps from the advancing men, and he had his umbrella out before him. He struck the ground hard with the metal tip of the black, tightly coiled umbrella. She glanced at him. With his left hand, he snatched off his half-lens spectacles and tucked them into the inner pocket of his suit jacket.
“You may take your leave,” the lead figure stated, stopping, glancing at the businessman, as the other figures fanned out across the alleyway.
“You do not have the authority to dismiss me,” the businessman said softly. “And I view your presence here as an act of insurrection. You may take your leave, and please, take your aberrations with you.” He swiped the air with his umbrella.
Seven hastily looked over the men facing them, spread like a barrier across the alley. She blinked, counting six, but it felt like a trick of the eyes, because the six men looked absolutely the same, absurdly identical. Apparently, the six were impossibly identical sextuplets. They wore gray athletic jackets and pants, and black Nike high-top sports shoes. These details she barely registered, because her gaze kept snapping back to their identical faces.
They had weird faces. Her first impression was that each man wore a stocking over his head, flattening their features. The men had too-small noses, or mere suggestions of noses, tiny lumps between their eyes and mouth. Tight black hair stood up like half-inch crests on their heads. A first glance would suggest crewcuts, but their heads seemed to have tight, short feathers instead of hair. Their eyes were too large, too round, too protruding, showing too much white and not enough iris. The mouths were lipless, and hard, seemingly reptilian. And the skin showing at their faces and hands and throats, was pale, too sickly beige, featureless, and smooth.
Seven swallowed hard, staring at the six grim men that looked like an Olympic gymnast team sent from the planet Mars. They were small, perhaps shorter than Newbury herself, but they looked very stout, very strong—wooden rods.
Enough of this. Never before had a crystal sandbox frightened her, not like this. She lifted her hand and ended the world, returned to her couch in her Inner Sanctum, only it did not work. She stood here in this too bright crystal sandbox. She glanced at the sun. The sun was gone, but not the light, and the planet Saturn was there in the sky as it had appeared to Jack and Stacey in the park. The others, both the group of aliens and the businessman, followed her gaze, and they all stared at Saturn hanging there in the sky, surreal and hyperreal.
The sun reappeared through the planet, Saturn faded, and the crystal sandbox lurched into movement, shaking the ground. The people in the alley braced themselves, spreading their legs, putting out their arms to steady themselves in the sickening movement of the ground. It was an earthquake in every sense of the word.
Sandra Newbury jabbed at the air. Something was desperately wrong. She could not find control.
The shaking ground quieted; however, Seven kept pointing and jabbing, swirling her fingers, searching, seeking.
“Stop that!” snapped the businessman.
“We have control, and we shall terminate after all aberrations are eliminated,” the leader of the six stated.
One of the men on the edges of the six, the one nearest the coffee shop window, came forward impossibly fast, and he seized Seven by the arm and began dragging her toward his fellows. She jerked her arm savagely, and nearly pulled the small man off his feet, but he was as strong as she had supposed, and his grip did not break. His hand clamped like a vice and he spun her around him as another of the closest men leaped forward and seized her other arm.
Without another word the businessman turned and abruptly retreated at a swift jogging trot up the other end of the alley, his umbrella tucked up under an arm.
“You are under arrest,” the leader of the six said to Seven as she pulled and cried out between her two captors. “We are the Keepers of the Code, and we have judged you a Violator of the Code.”
“I haven’t violated anything,” Seven cried, kicking at them, stamping her foot at their feet, and if she could get close enough she would bite them, but they ensured her unbalance, her feet barely touching the ground. “Stop it! You’re hurting me! Ah, stop, help me! Somebody help!”
“Into the portal,” the leader commanded, marching toward the building across the alley from the coffee shop.
Seven glanced up and saw a perfect green circle form in the bricks of the building, shimmering, a rippling sheet of plastic water hanging impossibly in the air. No way was she going in there. In strength born of terror she lurched her body and twisted, yanking at the hand-clasps on her arms, not caring how her bones bent and her skin stretched. They could barely contain her as she dug in her feet and screamed. Another of the strange men came forward to snatch her up but she met him full on and kicked him fully between his legs and he grunted and fell atop her, and the whole mass of them surged and tangled.
Someone cried out and there was a flurry of movement and Seven was thrown backward onto the pavement, suddenly free of the intense pressure of the men’s hands on her arms. She banged her head, hard, but rolled and tried to scamper away but legs tripped over her half-risen body and she was knocked to the ground again. She rolled away from bodies and slammed into the bricks. She remembered, the green circle, the portal, and she knew to move her body as far away from that thing as possible. She looked back and saw a tall figure amidst the strange men.
“Are you okay?” someone said, gently taking her shoulders in a grip so different from the ones she had just escaped that she did not even start at the touch. She looked up into Jack’s eyes, who looked as terrified as she was, and yet he smiled reassuringly. And then she saw a shoe connect with his face and knock the kid back and away.
She scrambled her fingers in the warm bricks and climbed to her feet as one of the grim gray men came at her. She did not think. She punched him squarely in the face, and shockingly, the man tumbled violently backward, away from her, crushed by her blow.
She did not even think of the power she felt in her fist as she struck the man. She rushed to Jack, who was half up, scrambling woozily on hands and knees. She got her hands under his arms and aided him to stand, and then the tall man, the big man, Stacey Colton, he came backing into them. She drew Jack back and away down the alley and they separated for a moment, and she stood panting, bending over with her hands on her knees, and she looked up, and it struck her, this was it, this was that moment, that very moment she had arrived in her opening of the crystal sandbox, it was laid out before her like a dream she might have had, or a prophecy in the moment of fulfilment. This was her POV, Stacey facing off with the attackers, Jack bloodied behind him, and here she was; she had not seen herself, before, when she sat on her couch, but she had seen this same scene, through her own eyes, right now, at this moment.
Stacey was there, facing off with three gray men, and Jack was just behind the taller man, the boy’s hand braced against Stacey’s spine, his face full of blood. Stacey had his fists up loosely, and his feet were doing some kind of slow-motion tap dance, constantly in motion.
Three of the six aggressors—Keepers of the Code—stirred and jerked on the pavement.
The three strange gray men, the leader most prevalent, advanced.
Stacey lurched in his seat and the coffee mug seemed to leap out of his hand. He felt woozy, dizzy, and blinked his eyes hard. What in the world?
“Did you feel that?” Jack croaked, his own arm spasming and knocking his coffee mug off the table. Instinctively, blinking his eyes hard, he seized the paperback book from the table and crammed it into his backpack. He half expected the book to be gone, but no way was he letting them snatch that away. He felt like he had just fainted. His head felt sick. One moment he was looking up, he was seeing the beautiful girl standing there, half-substantial, a ghost, looking at him, and he was just smiling, and then everything had lurched.
“Everything lurched,” Stacey said, clutching at his forehead. It felt like everything just stopped, just froze, and now began again. He thought maybe he was having a stroke. Then he looked out the window, and started. Jack half stood and leaned over the table, and they both saw the strange group outside, the young woman in black sweats poking a very familiar figure in the chest, and the group of strange men appearing from the periphery.
Then the earthquake began. Stacey seized the table top and stood.
“Earthquake!” Jack spat, grabbing onto Stacey’s arm, attempting to steady the both of them, attempting to steady the very world.
“Away from the window,” Stacey said pulling Jack with him as the diners of the coffee shop began wailing, many people slipping beneath tables as the whole world undulated.
“Come on,” Stacey said, tugging on Jack, heading them like drunken sailors toward the front doors.
“But we’re not supposed to go outside in an earthquake,” Jack complained.
“It’s her,” Stacey said. “Hurry,” spoke over his shoulder, pulling the kid along by an arm, “and you stick with her, okay, let me handle them!”
“Her!” Jack said, and then “them! WHO?”
As they reached the front doors the shaking of the world settled, it had only lasted ten seconds, at most, even though it felt as if it must have been an hour. An earthquake is a terrifying force of nature, trembling the very core of reality, the foundation on which they existed.
“Get ready!” Stacey called, releasing Jack’s arm and bursting through the front doors of the coffee shop. One of the doors slammed into the bricks and shattered into a blizzard of glittering bits, but Jack ignored the explosion, chasing after the large man who was moving too fast to be possible and then they were charging down the alley and Jack barely registered the struggling knot of people when Stacey slammed into them, a freight train scattering bowling pins.
Jack saw the girl go over and roll amidst the bodies and he lifted his backpack like a battering ram and slammed into the pile of bodies, driving two little men apart, then he got knocked to the side and literally tripped over the girl’s body as she was trying to rise.
Stacey grabbed a strange looking man by the seat of his pants and the scruff of his neck and hardly considering lifted the man and spun him up into the air above an open dumpster. The tossed body boomed loudly inside and there was the crash and smash of glass and the bang and clatter of metal garbage.
With lightning quickness Stacey perceived a man spinning toward him and he registered a foot slamming him across the cheek, but reflexively (those old reflexes, bless them) he rolled with the blow, and chopped his left elbow up and across in a savage crank, blasting the blur of a man off his feet. Then with hardly a breath several men were punching him, kicking him, and he was covering and turning, swinging his torso about, his arms up in the old stance, he was blocking and ducking, and he realized (with a stab of embarrassment) he was bellowing like a bull.
Stacey took another huge kick to his thigh and he almost went over, but he spun neatly and backed through the remaining tangle of bodies, putting himself between the attackers and the two young people, Jack and the girl.
He was ready, but he reminded himself not to start jumping and hopping like he always used to do. He used to be a swift motorcycle, but if he attempted to fight in that fashion, he would die of a heart attack in a matter of seconds, because now he was more like a lumbering tank than any two-wheeled vehicle. But he still had all the tools for this kind of madness.
Someone lurched at him and Stacey neatly jabbed his left fist, a clean snapping strike, and it caught the guy square in the nose. But that was weird, because the guy didn’t seem to have a nose. But the little man flopped backward just as neatly as any normal man would do, nose or not. Stacey feinted at the next closest assailant, and the thug jerked back.
Stacey started edging backward, never ceasing his footwork, ever tracking the three guys in front of him. The guy in the dumpster started emerging like some kind of eel from a hole but the lid of the dumpster crashed down on him. Stacey felt a hand on his spine and knew it must be Jack, and kept moving backward, herding them away from the three odd-looking thugs.
“This is the main aberration,” one of the identical men said to the other two, “eliminate him, that is the first objective now.”
The three men came forward but now each had a long black instrument in hand, at first Stacey thought they must be watchmen batons, but a second peek revealed that the weapons were sharp, like needles.
“Ooh boy,” Stacey murmured. “This…is…gonna…hurt.”
But he stepped forward, fists up, ready to use the only tools he had at his disposal.
“Get away, Jack, run!” Stacey commanded under his breath, and he moved forward.
“Stop this immediately,” barked a voice of command, and Stacey heard behind him shoes clattering on the pavement. He glanced back, keeping an eye on the three fighting freaks with their black needles, and he witnessed what had to be the strangest vision of the day, even in a day full of strange visions, because a line of businessmen came trotting up the alley, trotting up alongside Stacey and then passing him, forming into a line of blue business suits.
Stacey registered there must be six of the businessmen, large men in identical blue suits, but all the men were diversely varied, there was a blond businessman in a bowler hat, a black businessman with neat muttonchop sideburns, and at least two businesswomen with their hair drawn back behind their heads tightly into buns. They formed a wall between Stacey and the clones. Each of these suited saviors had their umbrellas up and pointed before them like swords.
“You should not be here,” the seventh businessman said, coming up alongside Stacey. He paused for a moment, meeting Stacey’s eyes. Stacey recognized the man from the park, the one that had given Jack the book, the one Jack mistakenly believed to be the author, Murakami. “But you handled yourself competently, for an out-of-shape pugilist.”
Stacey grinned and managed to pant: “I never liked fighting.” And he was completely out of breath, with the old asthma just kicking in. He spat on the pavement and felt like he was about to faint.
Jack moved up and took hold of Stacey’s arm and wound it over and around his shoulders. Stacey leaned on him, just beginning to feel pain in his ribs, a limp in his right leg, and assorted other wailing body parts, crying out for attention.
“You…okay?” Stacey queried, noticing he could only see Jack through his right eye, the first kick in the face closing his left eye.
“Fine, are you okay?” Jack returned, pulling the larger man away from the stand-off in the alley.
People were out on the street, many of them looking down the alley, watching the odd confrontation. The lead businessman pushed through the wall of diverse umbrella wielders and stood with his own umbrella poking the ground. He looked like a monument erected to filthy lucre.
“You are under arrest for crossing boundaries, and violating security,” the businessman said to the clones.
“You have no power to arrest Keepers of the Code,” the speaker for the six said.
“I will not discuss these issues with you, but demand that you come without protest, or we shall subdue you,” the businessman said, and now he sounded as if he were enjoying all this.
A double-cab pickup truck moved across the rear of the alley and a grinning shaggy head erupted from the descending driver’s window. It was the giant from the coffee shop.
“Stacey, Jack, Sandy!” the giant called, “Come with me if you want to live!”
Stacey and Jack and Seven who stood near them gawked at the giant in the red pickup truck.
“I’m just kidding! I always wanted to say something like that, now hurry, get in the back!” the giant bellowed, and despite his size and shaggy beard, he could almost pass for a mischievous child, beaming at them. Apparently, he wanted to take them all on an adventure.
“Do not leave this place!” the businessman bellowed back at them, and it was at that moment that the odd-looking attackers launched themselves forward, as if they meant to break through the line and come after Stacey. The line of businessmen closed and umbrellas spiraled and flashed, there were fierce cries, and the din of battle was loud.
“Into the truck,” Stacey whispered, turning Jack about.
“Agreed,” Jack snapped, and they began moving toward the truck, both of them limping; Seven, however, remained where she was, making odd signs in the air with her finger.
“Come on,” Stacey called to her over his shoulder.
“It’s not working,” she wailed, trying everything she knew to take back control of the crystal sandbox, but it was as if she was no longer in the sim, but the real world. Each moment that passed in this place made her blood pressure elevate. A black metal sliver clanged on the ground near her feet and she glanced and saw that its end was soaked in blood.
Sandra Newbury ceased signing in the air and dashed after Stacey and Jack.
© Copyright 2016 Douglas Christian Larsen. Vestigial Surreality. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).
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